One thing I find all of us have in common after a cancer diagnosis and a year or more of treatment, is we know who we were, and we realize we are no longer that pre-cancer person. We feel lost for a very long time, often many, many years, because nothing, especially our former selves, is the same. And we are extremely unfamiliar with who we have become. It is easy to remain stuck in grieving our former self and not move on to accept our Post-Cancer Self.
Early on a recent Sunday morning, I unearthed a great discovery while cleaning. That’s always the risk of cleaning, isn’t it? I found an old journal from 2009, several years before my cancer diagnosis. In the journal, I had written a list of 100 things that I wanted to do before I die or aka the infamous Bucket List. Vaguely I remember reading a book by some self-help author who appeared on Oprah who said to make that bucket list, and I did. As I read through the list, my first reaction was: “Who is this shallow person?” The list consisted of mostly fun things I wanted to accomplish. Reading through it actually made me shiver as I thought to myself, “Is that all I used to think about?” It really horrified me to read what now seemed to me like very meaningless goals. For example, one of my former goals was to “buy a luxury car.” Certainly, there is nothing wrong with owning a luxury car, but it would no longer be on my Top 100 things to do before I die. Now I am so grateful and fortunate to own a non-luxury mid-size car that runs. The list upset me so much that I ripped the papers out of the journal, crumpled the pages into a ball, and threw them into my garbage can.
Later in the day, I was sitting in Church quietly reflecting on that list. It hit me that the discovery of that list was no accident. Lately, I had been praying about accepting Post-Cancer Denise. In order to do so, it was necessary for me to let go of my mental images of pre-cancer Denise. So I came home and retrieved the crumpled papers from the trash. Studying the list, I realized that pre-cancer Denise now felt like an old acquaintance that I had nothing in common with since at least 75% of those goals no longer held any meaning. And ironically enough, the only three “friends” that I had included in my list, had all abandoned me during cancer. That’s because they were the “fun kind of friends” and not the “no matter what kind of friends.”
I’ve said it before and it is worth repeating. Many of you have written these same sentiments to me: Cancer taught me more than all my previous life experiences combined. Am I ready to say cancer was a blessing? ABSOLUTELY NOT. But I am ready to say that cancer matured my thinking times 100 and taught me what really matters in life.
If you are clinging on to your pre-cancer self, holding your old self in higher esteem, and yearning to go back to who you were before cancer diagnosis, ask yourself these questions:
1) Besides your health, what do you miss the most about your pre-cancer self?
2) If your pre-cancer self and your Post-Cancer Self sat down to have a conversation, what would be the content of that conversation?
3) Are your goals different now than they were before cancer?
4) How are the depths of your relationships different today than they were before cancer?
5) What is the single most important lesson cancer taught you/is teaching you?
Spend some time to ponder the answer to these questions. It will help move you along to accept your Post-Cancer Self and allow you to move forward.
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